Department Store Mannequins, L. Frank Baum, and Automatonophobia, of course

Posted by

Six things (or moreĀ  — but who’s counting) about the history of department store MANNEQUINS that everyone needs to know


1. The Dutch word mannekijn, which meant “little man,” evolved to mannequin in France, where it first referred to an artist’s jointed model. By the 1800s, shops in Paris used full-size mannequins made of wicker or paper mache to display clothing.

2. Around the turn of the 20th century, the first department stores in the United States used mannequins made of wax. When sun hit the store windows they had an unfortunate tendency to melt.

3. A living human being could also be called a “mannequin” if her job was to model clothing in a dressmaker’s shop, a department store fashion show, or while standing frozen in a store window.

At least the human mannequins didn’t melt.

Wax Figure advertisement

Dry Goods Economist 1917



Wax Figure Advertisement

Dry Goods Economist 1917

4. These wax figures had glass eyes, and were individually crafted. Lips, eyebrows and eyelashes were painted on by hand. Full, lush hair was painstakingly woven into the head so that it resembled the long, thick manes worn by fashionable women known as Gibson Girls.



5. Before going on to write the Wizard of Oz series of books, L. Frank Baum worked in a department store doing window displays, and he is considered a pioneer in the field. He edited the first trade magazine that was devoted to the subject, and enthusiastically promoted the importance of window displays as a selling tool.

Not that he believed in deceiving people with hyped up promises of fulfillment through superficial means…


Wax Figure Vacuuming in Store Window 1914

Wax Figure Vacuuming in Store Window. Glamorous! Electrical Merchandise Magazine 1914



6. Automatonophobia is the irrational fear of figures such as dolls, wax figures, puppets, prostheses and ventriloquist dummies that are made to represent a real, living, conscious being.

Making Kewpie Dolls

Making Kewpie Dolls


I must say, though, I question if that kind of fear is truly irrational.